Why did a Revolution in Russia (it was never the Russian Revolution) take place? Secular historians, whether Soviet or Western (spiritually, it is the same atheism) have expressed all sorts of theories in answer to this question. Churchmen, however, are unanimous: It is because vital sections of the population of the Russian Empire lost their faith in God beneath the weight of Western secularism. Atypically, one Englishman, never a member of the Orthodox Church, understood this. His name was George Shell and it is his witness which we shall now quote.
George Shell, also known by his pen-name of Gerard Shelley, was born in Sidcup, Kent, in 1891, and was a linguist, author, priest and translator. Brought up as a Roman Catholic, he learned French, German and Italian in his youth and was a graduate of Heidelberg, the Major Seminary and the Collège Saint-Sulpice in Paris. Before the Revolution he travelled widely in the Russian Empire, learned fluent Russian and met the Tsarina Alexandra and also Gregory Rasputin very many times. He was then in his twenties. After encounters in Imperial Russia and then misfortunes in the Bolshevik Soviet Union, he escaped back to England and became a writer, priest and translator from Russian. In March 1950 he was consecrated bishop of the Old Roman Catholic Church in Great Britain and in 1952 became its third archbishop. In 1959 Shelley’s Old Catholic Church opposed the Dogma of Papal Infallibility and during and after the Second Vatican Council he opposed the runaway changes of Roman Catholic liberalism. He died in 1980.
His eyewitness accounts of Russian life were recorded in his 250 pages of memoirs, ‘The Speckled Domes’, published in 1925. He recorded how the Tsar made contact with the peasantry, repeating ‘The King and the Commons’ alliance that was sought against the aristocracy in the Peasants’ Revolt of fourteenth century England, to develop a democratic monarchy, not unlike the attempts to save the Empire of Constantinople between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries under the Zealots and others. Here are extracts from that book. They answer the question as to who caused the Revolution and the bloodbath that followed it for three generations, the results of which are still plain to see in contemporary Russia:
‘To the vast majority of the Russian aristocracy, and especially to the intelligentsia, he (Rasputin) was a monster of iniquity. To a very select few – those, in fact, who had personal relations with him – he was a saint and the protagonist of a great ideal’ (P. 26).
‘He (a Russian intelligent (= a Westernised pseudo-intellectual)) delights in telling evil stories about the man or woman who believes and practices a code of faith and morals’ (P. 28).
‘I’m sure hell is paved with the minds of intelligents’, said Princess Galsin. ‘Their personal lives are sheer horror…They don’t believe in God or religion. They have no mystical motive to be righteous. They imagine all the good things will come automatically with the overthrow of the Tsar. It’s the system that’s rotten, they say. I rather think it’s themselves’ (Pp. 30-31).
‘What is Gregory’s (Rasputin’s) plan’?, I asked. ‘The rejuvenation of Orthodoxy and Autocracy, and the welding of the throne with the Russian people’ (P. 32).
‘Since I made the acquaintance of Gregory Rasputin, my experience of the spiritual forces of the world has been enriched beyond words…He is a prophet with all the grandeur and vision of a seer’ (pp 33-34).
He (Gregory) said: ‘I fight for the Tsar, the Faith and Fatherland. While I am alive no harm shall ruin them, but if I perish, so shall they!’ (P. 37).
He (Gregory) said: ‘I am sad for Russia. Faith and piety have forsaken the soul…Russia perishes’ (P. 49).
‘In Russia he (Gregory) wished to have a Peasant Tsar, one who would defend the interests of the Orthodox peasantry against the Atheistic, riotous-living landlords and bourgeois, who spent most of their time abroad or bullying their peasants’ (P. 50).
‘I realised that the fearful things attributed to Rasputin were, in many cases, the actual doings of his accusers. Perhaps no man in history has been so furiously calumniated’ (P. 53).
‘Truly religious minds, such as those of Rasputin….looked at this overwhelming wave of corruption with horror and alarm. Small wonder that the Empress and her followers looked for the salvation of Russia to the closer union of the throne with the peasantry, to whom the old traditions of Orthodoxy, religion and morality were still living realities. The intelligentsia had gone astray into the putrid wilderness of materialism, looking only for the establishment of a society of mere comfortable conditions, idealising sensual orgies as the Paradise of the system…Religion is a ‘peasant prejudice’. Yet it is curious that the Russian intelligent, having no desire to explore the higher forms of religious consciousness, goes down into the depths of materialism to explore the horrors of hell…In this atmosphere, Rasputin tried to work for the old ideals (P. 54).
‘She (the Empress) declared: ‘Petrograd society is rotten! There is hardly a soul to be relied on…The nobles and merchants were rotten. They had lost faith and worshipped materialism. They were untrustworthy, anarchical, evil-living….Even the highest and nearest are full of revolts and schemes’. ‘Rasputin was to tell me afterwards that the Tsar lived in daily dread of being the victim of a plot to dethrone him by several of the more ambitious Grand Dukes’ (P. 62).
‘Her (the Empress’) desire to reach the religious soul of the Russian people was reviled and deluged by those pretentious nobles with an orgy of calumnies. No doubt they felt they were being passed by, and that their position as knout-wielders to the populace was being undermined’ (P. 64).
‘Living in the neighbourhood of Rasputin, I had ample means for studying his views and observing his manners…Of all the wretched stories that were told about him, I could believe none, for there was not the slightest evidence in the man’s behaviour either at the Court or in the houses of his admirers to justify any suspicion of evil-doing. One has only to recall the base, disloyal, and abominably lurid stories about the Empress and her beautiful daughters – which the degenerate bureaucratic classes invented out of sheer malice and rank imaginativeness, to realise how low society had sunk. In a society of bribe-takers, robbers of State funds, and corrupt officials, Rasputin stood out like the giant figure of a saint moulded in rugged iron. He, of all men in Russia was immaculate…Rasputin’s life in the midst of a horde of howling, snarling enemies was both dangerous and burdensome. The infuriated aristocrats longed to have him assassinated’ (P. 65).
‘They (the Tsar and his wife) were to be deposed…The Tsar had received information that the British and French ambassadors were aware of the plot, and had assured the schemers of their moral and financial support’ (P. 67).
‘Although a peasant, he (Rasputin) had clear, well-defined ideas on a host of matters. No doubt they sprang more from a deep intuition and instinct rather than from a reasoned, scientific knowledge. There was so much of the Old Testament prophet in Rasputin that it may not be wrong to compare him to one of those strange, rugged seers who played so great a role at the courts of the kings of Israel…How, then, did Rasputin come to hold such a position in the eyes of the Tsar and Tsarina? The answer is quite simple. He fitted in with their creed and plan for the regeneration and salvation of Russia’ (P. 69).
‘With such intolerant and selfish views prevailing among the upper classes, the creed and plan of the Sovereigns was sure to meet with the most hostile and vindictive opposition. ..By their opposition to the Tsar’s new policy, the nobles were digging their own grave…In the Tsar’s rapprochement with the peasantry, they descried a menace to their hold on the land. Moreover, by identifying themselves personally with the peasants’ religion, the Sovereigns appeared to be turning aside from the materialism and spiritual nihilism of the nobles and intelligentsia…She (the Tsarina) told me that since the revolution of 1905, she and her Imperial husband had come to realise that the cause of all Russia’s misfortunes lay in the apostasy of the educated classes from the ideals of religion and morality’ (Pp. 70-71).
She (the Tsarina) said: ‘The Russian intelligentsia makes a god of materialism and science, and despises the secrets of religion. It is false! Their science will lead only to the shedding of oceans of blood, if they despise God’ (P. 73).
‘The intelligentsia wanted the Revolution at all costs; the nobles wanted the throne to uphold its prestige, and their position as batteners on (those who grow fat from) the land. Nothing was too bad or wicked to attribute to the Tsarina. All the evils that afflicted Russia were laid at her door. The nobles endeavoured to turn popular anger, due to their own corruption and mismanagement, against the Empress’ (P. 74).
‘When I returned in January 1917, the Staretz (Gregory) was no more. His ‘princely’ converts had lured him to his death, and talk of Revolution was in the air…I cannot help reflecting how futile the Russians were. The nobles, who feared the Tsar’s rapprochement with the peasants, have had their land taken from them, while the Revolutionary intelligentsia, whose dream of the downfall of Tsardom was so glorious and stirring, have bitten the dust under the blows of a bloodier knout, or are scattered over the face of their loveless West’ (P. 76).